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How would you feel if your employer mounted a camera that could record your every move? Not the CCTV cameras in stairwells, lobbies, reception areas, loading docks, and warehouses; not cameras mounted in public places that capture what takes place in their surroundings. We mean a camera directed at you as you work.
Amazon, the world’s largest retailer, recently announced it is doing exactly that to monitor how its delivery drivers drive. When asked about the possibility of a similar program coming to Canada, Amazon said only that the rollout is currently in the U.S.
Telematics is nothing new in commercial vehicles, as well as personal ones. The monitoring of a vehicle’s speed, braking, location, and movements has long been used by corporations to enforce safe driving techniques for their workers, and personal drivers started opting for the oversight a decade ago as a way to achieve promised insurance cost reductions.
There is a difference between surrendering your personal privacy via these black boxes or apps when you are on the clock for an employer, and when you are on your own time. I will never understand people who sign up for apps to have their driving habits micro-monitored to chase down a few dollars, a promise that originally would allow savings but not trigger increases. That is all coming tumbling down as governing bodies throw open the doors for insurance companies to now require what was once a choice – using the app – or be penalized, as I wrote about last week.
Commercial drivers are usually sporting their employers’ identification. They are representing that employer, and that employer has a right to demand a code of conduct on the road much as they would in a store or a warehouse or a boardroom. Some rigs have speed governors built-in but it’s becoming easier and easier to be able to monitor and reconstruct every part of a journey, often in real-time.
Amazon said last week it would require those who drive for them to sign a “biometric consent form” or lose their employment with the company. Amazon has a delivery system that includes drivers that work directly for the company, but most are subcontracted through many other providers. That person piloting a truck emblazoned with the Amazon logo probably doesn’t receive a paycheque from Amazon, yet now must agree to making images of themselves available to facial recognition software. The system, called Driveri, will be installed on Amazon-logoed vehicles.
They insist it is an entirely safety-based decision, citing admittedly attractive numbers from a pilot program of the tech: according to Amazon spokesperson Deborah Bass, “accidents decreased 48 per cent, stop-sign violations decreased 20 per cent, driving without a seat belt decreased 60 per cent, and distracted driving decreased 45 per cent.” Hard to argue with that. But I’m going to anyway.
Amazon explains the images taken from the AI cameras have no audio, and they can’t be watched in real-time. In this day and age, I give a hacker about 10 minutes to call their bluff on that one. Cameras are rolling whenever the vehicle is running and for 20 minutes after it’s been shut off. Drivers can deactivate the camera when they take a (timed) break, but otherwise, all images will be stored for 30 days.
Why? Why do employees have to sign away this last sliver of privacy for a stressful job that gets harder every day? This behemoth of a corporation doesn’t just push the envelope when it comes to both employee and public protections, it dumps it in a shredder. By using so many subcontracted drivers, even when there are crashes, they skirt liability.
Monitoring telematics in the vehicles will deliver all of those reductions they found in the pilot program without keeping a camera on someone for their entire shift. The ever-rolling cameras will send verbal alerts to drivers who appear distracted, speed, fail to stop, or aren’t maintaining a safe following distance. It will not sound an alert – but will record – hard braking, acceleration, and cornering; U-turns; driver drowsiness and seat belt compliance; and, of course, obstructing the camera. They will also record every yawn, scratch, and facial expression.
Do you know how you get good results from your delivery network? You hire drivers with good records; you train them properly; you pay them properly; you use advanced technology to develop safe routes; you don’t put profits ahead of safety; and you don’t treat your drivers like the autobots you so dearly wish you could use instead.
An Amazon press release helpfully supplied driver feedback, including a submission from “Nick,” who said, “As a driver, I feel better protected and safer with Netradyne [the camera] in the cab with me. My human nature is to go fast, but the Netradyne alerts make me consciously think about ways to not do that.” Hey, Nick, you know what else would make you do that? A telematic app without a camera.
“Don’t believe the self-interested critics who claim these cameras are intended for anything other than safety,” says the Amazon spokesperson. Not sure how self-interested I am, but I am definitely a critic.